Jersey Restaurants: Chez Catherine in Westfield

This tiny place in Westfield, adjacent to a highway-type franchise hotel, bills itself as “one of the best French restaurants in New Jersey.” That is nonsense. It’s got to be the best French restaurant in New Jersey. And one of the best of any kind.

I had lunch here years ago and remember it to be good but unremarkable. Not so on September 26, when my date and I decided to see what all the acclaim is really about. We were greeted warmly and escorted to our table, which was formal and lovely but not over the top. After a short wait, our waiter approached and began the service, which throughout the evening was attentive but not intrusive. And he was amenable to my using my conversational Moroccan/Lebanese French throughout the evening which he managed to actually understand, so I was thrilled.

After throwing the towel in on avoiding evil carbs we began with bread, butter and sparkling water which were served quickly and deftly. That was quickly followed by a half-bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut, which I ordered by its number 100 on the list, and the waiter remarked that the number is actually “cinquant” – fifty, since it’s only a half. It’s probably a line he uses every time on anyone with a passing acquaintance with French, but it worked on me and got a laugh.

Laura began with Escargot—snails, butter, garlic, parsley and Pernod—and I with Prince Edward Island mussels in Saffron broth. My mussels were wonderful, but after tasting a snail that Laura graciously offered, I wish I’d done the same. They were simply amazing, firm enough yet buttery, flavorful and rich. Best I’ve ever tasted…including in Paris. Following the Champagne and appys, I ordered a bottle of Chablis Premier Cru Domaine de la Cornasse 2012, very reasonably priced. The list, in fact, unlike pretty much every steakhouse in the known universe, had a wonderful selection under $100, and many at the $50-70 price point. The 14-page list does have a few extravagances up to a 2002 Petrus for $3000, but at the same time some decent Bordeaux down to $40 and some very good ones around $100. A well-done list.

Our entrees were…spectacular. Laura had the pan-seared Barnegat scallops, with butternut squash puree and haricots verts (green beans), and I splurged on the Dover sole, which did have an additional “market price” charge and which I didn’t bother to ask about. Whatever it was, it was worth it. Prepared tableside, this was the single best fish I’ve ever tasted. Good as the scallops were, on tasting the sole Laura remarked “Aw I should have ordered this!” Throughout the evening, our wine glasses were kept filled and the waiter dropped by to ensure we had everything we needed and were happy. We did, and we were.

We finished the meal—$70 prix fixe on weekends—with Crepes Suzette: also with an upcharge of $20, but again, well worth it, for crepes, caramelized sugar, butter, orange zest confit and juice, flambéed tableside with Grand Marnier, accompanied by a Monbazillac Chateau Bellevue dessert wine. The bill without tip came to $400, not cheap but not anywhere in the vicinity of crazy expensive considering the meal and wines. We Uber-ed home, about as happy as with any dining experience as I’ve ever been; I think the only other experiences that were this good were at Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine and Eleven Madison Park in NYC. Amazing French food and wine next to a nondescript hotel in a small NJ burg. Chez Catherine.